Everybody’s a critic. Our comments boards are proof of that. But Radheyan Simonpillai actually gets paid to be one.
Rad, as most people refer to him, is a Film Critic who writes movie reviews and interviews celebrities regularly for NOW Magazine and AskMen.com, and occasionally makes appearances on CTV and CBC to talk shop.
He’s been praising and panning films for almost a decade and has interviewed hundreds of Hollywood stars including folks like Bruce Willis, Amy Adams, George Clooney and Kermit the Frog. He’s even been invited to an intimate dinner party with Marion Cotillard, which Rad ultimately turned down because he already had plans with his wife.
“One thing you never do is cancel plans with your wife just to have dinner with celebrities. In any case, I had already interviewed Cotillard.”
If you talked to 19-year-old Rad, he probably wouldn’t have guessed that he’d be doing what he’s doing today. Back then, he was an undergrad at the University of Toronto Scarborough, taking Computer Science courses and “failing miserably” (his words, not mine).
“Part of it was that I couldn’t really get into school because I hated what I was doing.”
After switching into the Business program, Rad realized he still hadn’t figured out his niche and found himself getting suspended because of his low GPA—a whopping 0.89.
“So I took a year off, I worked and at that point my parents were like ‘alright, just finish whatever degree you can’.”
Coming back to school after gaining some much needed perspective, Rad enrolled in a program that he felt committed to seeing through. In the English Literature program, he had the opportunity to dive into studying cinema—a world he’d always been in love with but had never seen a way into.
In his early teens, Rad had already become passionate about film. His parents subscribed to The Toronto Star, and from the age of 12, Rad would swipe the Movies section to read reviews by Film Critics Peter Howell and Geoff Pevere (guys he now works alongside). Those reviews were his initial film school and Rad made a point of seeing the movies that got the best ratings, even if that meant taking the TTC from Kennedy Station to Yonge and Bloor, where indie films often screened.
“I still remember, at thirteen, forcing my dad out to the theatres to see this little known movie called Pulp Fiction.”
Reviews were a window into the world of cinema and Rad loved being able to share great films with others. He was always that guy who told you what to watch. While he had an interest in becoming a film critic, he had no idea how to go about it.
Rad at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) “It’s not the kind of thing that you see job postings for and there’s no real set path to it.”
Skip forward to the University years, when Rad had a fateful conversation with an old friend, TC’s very own Niluja Albert.
“We were discussing what I was going to do with my life when I complete this English degree. Niluja suggested that I voluntarily write reviews for the U of T newspaper The Varsity because they actually got access to press screenings—the same ones that the professionals go to. In fact, by being The Varsity’s film critic, I had incredible access. With a readership of a 100,000 movie-going students, I had movie studios throwing not just screenings but interviews at me with stars like Mark Wahlberg, Daniel Craig and Mark Ruffalo.”
After wrapping up his B.A., Rad was invited (and paid) to take part in the new M.A. Program in Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. It was while completing his M.A. that he would get snapped up by Toronto’s NOW magazine in 2008. A year later, he began writing for AskMen.com as well. Rad credits the guidance of his editor at NOW, Glenn Sumi, in particular as having helped him to hone his craft.
“There’s a lot of publications that will take your work and just edit it on their own. By the time it’s published, it might not even sound like what you wrote. It’s not like that with Glenn. You get feedback and the opportunity to improve your own work.”
There are also others who have helped him along the way. Veteran critics like Peter Howell and Richard Crouse have consistently given Rad advice on how to navigate the tricky business of managing relationships with stars and studios and how to get great interviews.
He also credits veteran TV personality Teri Hart for providing valuable tips and encouragement for his recent forays in front of the camera, which is far more intimidating for Rad than meeting movie stars.
Rad with Bond Girl Gemma Arterton and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan “I get over being star struck pretty quickly. It helps that I really suck at being a TV personality. I’m a writer. But all of a sudden because video is preferential to print, I’m being thrown in front of the camera for outlets that broadcast to millions of people. My very first onscreen appearance, with no practice or anything, was for CBC. It’s still something I’m working on. So when I’m interviewing stars in front of a camera, I could care less about being star struck because I’m too worried about getting my delivery right instead.”
There was a time when Rad had dreamt of becoming the full time critic at a major daily newspaper. But in the face of an ever evolving industry, he’s preparing himself for a change of plans. Being a film critic is a tough act in a world full of bloggers who are doing your job for free.
“I’m doing it now and I feel really lucky to have made it but I question what I’m doing every day. I’m thinking about where I want to go from here. I love film criticism but it is not an industry that is going to survive very long in the same form that it exists today.”
Rad’s realized that diversifying is the best way to stay involved in the industry he loves, so he’s considering options like film programming or negotiating the distribution of films. He recommends the same for anyone who wants to get involved.
“Keep your options open. Study as many things as you can that revolve around the industry. Figure out how to combine talents, and don’t let your studies have a narrow focus. The more you know about, and the more you can do within, your industry, the harder you’ll be to stop.”
Prisoners Interview with Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello and Melissa Leo
Uncut Avengers Interview with Mark Ruffalo and Cobie Smulders
Amy Adams Interview
Kermit the Frog Interview